A HIGH RISK! - THE ERROR CLOSE TO TRUTH
"An error is the more dangerous in proportion to the degree of truth which it contains." - Henri-Frédéric Amiel
Well, did you read the quote above, or just skim through it without giving it a thought? If yes, may I suggest that you read that quote again and pause for a few minutes to give it a thought!
At the trial of Jesus, Pilate asked the question "What is truth?" The reverberations of that question continue to this time - being discussed in seminars, corporate board rooms and academic settings. But let us direct this question to the Church today. Often we are reminded that the church is a people redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus and so belongs to the Christ as His bride. It is very rare to hear a discussion on the relationship of the church to truth. But that is not so in scripture. Paul in his epistle to Timothy reminds him that the Church is the 'pillar and support of the truth.' So the church is not just a social institution or a centre that emanates rituals but has an important responsibility to society at large - to be the disseminator and participant of the truth.
One of the earliest and most alarming stories in the book of Acts is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the fifth chapter. When we read it in the context of the previous chapter, we see that this couple had an agenda - Joseph, a Levite, yet a foreigner, had sold a piece of land and given the proceeds to the apostles for the needs of the community. The next chapter begins with a word indicating a contrast - 'But', and then proceeds to introduce Ananias and his wife who also make a sale of property. Unlike Joseph they indulge in deception - they do not disclose the actual amount that they got for the sale of the property but act as though they had brought the complete proceeds to the apostles. In the words of G. Campbell Morgan: "The tremendous, the overwhelming part of this picture, the thing that astonishes and fills us with awe, is not the death of Ananias and Sapphira. It is rather that of the purity of the Church that compelled that death; compelled it, not by law and control, but by the atmosphere of the Spirit in which the Church was purified, and in which the Church was wholly and absolutely at the disposal of the Spirit."
We may think of this episode as being unusual - that this was not how the church should operate. But hear out Campbell Morgan again: Here we have to do with matters which we must describe as supernatural. Yet there is a sense in which they were natural, rather than supernatural. If we interpret what happened that day, by the higher law of the higher life that had come to these men, it was natural. The unnatural thing is that men should still live in the Church, professedly in the name of Christ, and continue in their impurity!
How true is that for the Indian Church today? If one is honest we would face the gravity of the situation - that people in our churches get intoxicated, live in addiction, lie, bribe, evade taxes and cheat. But what should be alarming is that leaders live immoral lives, make a handsome profit selling off property that does not belong to them and even rig and bribe their way through elections to get elected to positions of authority. What should frighten every believer is that this is now accepted as normative and any attempt to draw attention to these issues is considered less than graceful and judgemental.
One wonders if the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel does not apply to the church today: "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?" (Jer 5:30-31).
Certainly some are ready to point fingers (and sit smug). There is a song by Don Francisco titled 'Everybody else but me'. Here are some of the lyrics:
Way back there in Jesus' time; the Pharisees walked so proud,
They thought that they had the way to God; they prayed their prayers out loud.
But Jesus said they had hell to pay; for the pretense and the games they'd play.
I'm glad that's not like us today; we wouldn't act like that. Everybody else but me, Everybody else but me. He was talking to the hypocrite and Pharisee; Everybody else but me.
And that brings us to the quote at the beginning of this article. You'd have noticed it was very easy to spot the error in those who live in deception - like selling property illegally, living immorally or rigging election. It does not even take much to convince that there is a need to change.
But what about those who profess the right belief, give priority to the gathering of believers, tithe faithfully - more so publicly - but have no integrity within? Here the error is so subtle that it is very difficult to spot. There are those who profess loyalty to God but actually have their allegiance to humankind based on other criteria, like region or nationality, position or availability of resources.
Some claim that they want to grow the church but actually are building their own profiles and kingdoms - they panic when the adulation softens or the numbers do not increase, or even worse, decline (they either do not know or forget that there were instances when disciples left Jesus, yet He was unperturbed. At this point many of His disciples turned away and deserted Him (Jn.6:66). They live their lives in luxury while ministering among those who have very little. They are unable to distinguish between their feelings and true prophecy. They fake spiritual gifts to impress or fit in with the community.
May be the words 'The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!', apply more to this latter group than the first.
How then shall we live as disciples of Jesus? Shrugging your shoulder or being indiffert is not an option. "But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler - not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (1Cor 5:11-13).
Let me suggest some steps we can take:
1. Examine yourself lest you have a log in your eye and are attempting to remove the speck in the others.
2. Speak the truth in love. David Augsburger wrote a book titled Caring Enough To Confront. Will we care enough for our brother or sister in Christ and for the church to confront? Our estimation of the situation may be wrong but it is better to know it for ourselves.
3. Handle accurately the word of God. God has spoken and continues to speak through His Word. It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. Sometimes we cannot spot the error because we do not know the truth as revealed in His word. Many disciples of Christ and servants of the Kingdom do lip service to the word.
4. Test the spirits. This is an oft ignored command. We seem to have lost our ability or will to do so. Everyone who claims to be speaking the words of God may not be doing so. People sometimes speak to tickle the ears of the listeners and on the other hand we also hear only what we want to hear. Be willing to consider contrary views. The majority could be wrong - look at the instance in 1 Kings 22, especially vs. 13: "Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably."
5. Keep yourself accountable, especially if you are in leadership. Preferably, not with those to whom you minister or with whom you have a formal relationship. It's great to have Christian friends with whom you can share your innermost struggles and who are prepared to admonish you. Pro 27:17: Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
6. Finally, keep yourself humble. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Pride is the root to much sin. Of course, humility does not mean that we are blind, deaf and dumb and unable to think - but to be aware that it is only 'Christ in us' who is keeping us.
Oh, you may be wondering what does this have to do with the world. The world will find it difficult to consider The Truth unless we embody it ourselves. We are the pillar and support of the truth and this has to begin within, isn't it?